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5 Jun
With Joffre at Verdun

Posted by ploymeesin in Books & Reference | June 5, 2013 | 0 Comments

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You’d have said, if you had glanced casually at Henri de Farquissaire, that he was British—British from the well-trimmed head of hair beneath his light-grey Homberg hat to the most elegant socks and tan shoes which adorned his feet. His walk was British, his stride the active, elastic, athletic stride of one of our young fellows; and the poise of his head, the erectness of his lithe figure, a symbol of what one is accustomed to in Britons wherever they are met. That one gathered from a mere casual glance; though a second glance—a more penetrating one, we will say, one with a trifle more curiosity thrown into it—would have discovered other points still bearing out the same assumption as to Henri’s nationality, and leaving hardly a suspicion that in point of fact he was French—as French as they make them.

For, putting aside the fact that this young gentleman was dressed in clothes unmistakably British, tailored, in fact, in the heart of fashionable London, his features, as well as his figure and his method of progress, pointed to a British origin. Not, let us add, that there is need to make comparisons between the appearance of young men of France and those of our country, nor need to exploit the one against the other. That there are essential differences between the two nationalities all will admit—differences accentuated, no doubt, in the great majority of cases by dress, by manner, and by environment.

But Henri—what nationality could he have belonged to other than British—with those rosy cheeks, that fresh complexion, and that little perky moustache which adorned his upper lip? His “How do you do?” in the purest English as he met a companion in the street was as devoid of accent as would have been that of a habitué of London. There was nothing exaggerated about his method of raising his hat to a lady whom he passed, no gesticulations, no active nervous movements of his hands, and none of that shrugging of the shoulders which, public opinion has it, is so eminently characteristic of our Gallic neighbours. And yet the young man was French.

Striding down one of Berlin’s main streets in that summer of 1914, now so historic, he was chatting amiably with his chum, Jules Epain, a resident, like himself, of Berlin.

“So it’s war, eh?” he asked his chum in French.


There was silence for a little while, and then from Jules: “And we are here, in Berlin, the Kaiser’s city!”

“Just so!” from Henri; “and, Jules, my boy, the sooner we take steps to move along the better. I have taken tickets for England already, and don’t forget we are English.”

There again, without a doubt, the appearance of Henri’s friend would assist the suggestion which he had just mentioned. English? Yes, if Henri looked a British subject, and indeed spoke and behaved essentially as one of our people, then Jules, too, was not behind him. Perhaps more elegant, of darker features, spruce, neat, and well-groomed like his chum, he too had the distinguished air, that quiet and unassuming demeanour which stamp the Englishman throughout the world.

“You’ve the tickets, eh?” he asked Henri as they strode along. “For England too?”

“For England. And a tremendous job it was to get them. You see, Germany has declared war on France and Russia, and to attempt to return to France would have been out of the question. It had to be England, or Holland, or some such place, and England’s quite good enough for me if I can get there.”

“Bah!” Someone exploded near them; a huge, stout, helmeted individual gave vent to an exclamation of disgust, anger, hatred. The man spluttered as he suddenly pounced upon the two and ordered them to halt abruptly.

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